It is often said that when workers are scarce, they can achieve higher salaries. Nurses are scarce. Your work is important and has become more difficult in the pandemic. Nevertheless, the attempt failed on Thursday to implement a generally binding collective agreement for elderly care that would at least have increased the minimum wage. The Caritas employer representatives stopped the project. You did the “dirty work” for others, says social researcher Stefan Sell.
Salaries in geriatric care have risen slightly more in recent years than in other sectors. However, the wage level is still very low. Caring for old people is paid significantly less than, for example, manufacturing chemical products. According to the Federal Statistical Office, nurses in retirement homes received around 3,100 euros per month for a full-time job in 2019, 25 percent less than chemical specialists.
According to the Institute for Employment Research, helpers, who often take care of the elderly, received an average of just under 2150 euros gross. In East Germany the remuneration was even less than 2000 euros. Most of the 1.2 million elderly care workers earn even less because they work part-time.
Now it was planned to at least raise the minimum wage. The Verdi union and one of the smaller employers’ associations, the BVAP, agreed on a collective agreement that Labor Minister Hubertus Heil wanted to declare generally binding. According to this, for example, it was planned that nurses with a one-year training must receive at least 13.10 euros per hour from August, which is around 2220 euros per month for a full-time job.
According to the law, the Minister of Labor can only declare a collective agreement in the care of the elderly to be generally binding if Caritas and Diakonie agree, where many care workers are employed. On Thursday, the employers’ side of the Caritas labor law commission spoke out against it and thus stopped the project. The Diakonie Commission therefore decided on Friday not to vote on it at all.
Now the minimum wages that already exist for the industry remain. According to this, nursing staff in East Germany are currently entitled to 11.20 euros per hour, which is less than 2000 euros for a full position. In the west the hourly wage is 40 cents higher. From July there will be a minimum wage especially for skilled workers of 15 euros per hour for the first time. “That’s a slap in the face of the nursing staff,” says Stefan Sell, labor market and social researcher at the Koblenz University of Applied Sciences. “It is unbelievable to fob off even qualified specialists with a three-year training at 15 euros per hour, given the increasing demands.” The remuneration provided for in the new collective agreement would also have been too low, says Sell. After all, in other industries more than 20 euros per hour are paid for skilled work.
Employees who live in private households and look after the elderly have even fewer rights. Often these are women from Poland or Romania. Most of them are not even entitled to the minimum wage for care workers, explains Justyna Oblacewicz, a consultant at the Fair Mobility Organization, which advises employees from Eastern Europe. Because many are referred to in the contracts as domestic help, others are officially considered self-employed. If they are directly employed by the private household, according to the Ministry of Labor they are generally not entitled to the minimum wage for care, but only to the statutory minimum wage, which is also difficult to enforce. There are many employees who do a lot for little money. According to estimates, there are up to 600,000 so-called 24-hour carers in Germany, most of whom come from Eastern Europe, according to Oblacewicz.
The work of caregivers in homes and households is strenuous, and it has become more stressful in the pandemic. “The colleagues work under enormous psychological pressure,” says Rolf Cleophas, spokesman for the staff side of the labor law commission at Caritas. “They are afraid of becoming infected, of carrying the virus into the facility, and they are afraid for their families.” He knows of countless cases of work quarantine in which employees continue to do their jobs even though they have had contact with an infected person . You are then only allowed to go to work and otherwise have to stay at home.
The Caritas employee representatives were disappointed about the rejection on the part of the employer. “A generally binding tariff for elderly care would have meant an end to dumping wages for thousands of people, mostly employed by private providers,” says a press release.
According to Cleophas, the Caritas salaries are currently above the minimum remuneration provided for in the planned industry collective agreement, and nursing assistants also receive more in municipal institutions. So initially nothing would have changed for Caritas. Then why did employers say no? The employer representative of Caritas, Norbert Altmann, had already stated before the vote that there was a risk of conflicts in the structure of the Caritas salary rules. According to the collective agreement, unskilled elderly care workers should receive at least EUR 14.40 from June 2023. “That would raise the question of why this shouldn’t also apply to assistants in other areas,” Altmann told the FAZ. In the longer term, he feared that the pressure at Caritas would also have increased to raise wages.
Associated with this is a general fear: According to the Caritas employers, some would have seen the so-called Third Way in danger if the collective agreement had been made generally binding. The »third way« describes the way in which working conditions are negotiated in many church institutions, namely by internal labor law commissions in which employees and employer representatives sit. This path is based on special regulations for churches, which are derived from their right to self-determination. This also means that the right to strike is restricted.
“The strategic fears are obviously going there,” says Sell, “that the collective agreement could later overtake the still better regulations of the churches and that the special rights of the churches will be undermined. The bad thing is: Caritas does the dirty work for private employers, who often pay extremely low salaries and want to avoid any collective bargaining agreement like the devil does holy water. “
Behind all of this lies a problem that is often lamented and yet unsolved: there is too little public funding for care for the elderly. The umbrella association of statutory health and long-term care insurance funds has been criticizing the high share of those in need of care for a long time. On average, home residents would currently have to pay 2068 euros a month out of their own pocket, according to a spokesman for the umbrella association. “The own shares have reached a level that is no longer socio-politically justifiable.”
Health Minister Jens Spahn is planning to limit the personal contribution and a federal subsidy for long-term care insurance. You shouldn’t expect too much from it. Because the CDU politician also relies on private provision when financing elderly care.